Going Places: Thinking about cruising the high seas? Here’s what you need to know.



By MARILYN ROBITAILLE


Few things can compete with that feeling of freedom when all the forces come together to create an ideal environment for total relaxation. It’s one of the reasons we love vacation. You momentarily leave all your cares behind, displacing all those nagging things that create stress with a beautiful sense of well-being.


If you’re toying with the idea of taking a cruise once COVID has subsided enough for you to feel safe, rest assured, you can have the experience of a lifetime.


Let’s start with the obvious. Lots of people think cruising might not be for them. You just won’t know until you’ve tried it. If you do harbor any reservations about boarding that big ship, set them aside for now and take advantage when you see a bargain. You don’t necessarily have to have deep pockets to find yourself communing with the seagulls.


Cruises come in all lengths from three days to several months. Obviously, the longer and more exotic cruises will cost more than the shorter ones.


Unless you have a rich relative in Miami who plans to treat, starting your search with cruises that leave from Galveston is a good idea for multiple reasons.


If you want to have a global picture of what’s available, checkout AAcruises.com. You don’t have to be a big fan of American Airlines to book from there, and it’s a good way to limit searches to see what lines leave from Galveston or from any port in the world for that matter.


You can drive to Galveston and save hundreds of dollars on airfare. The fact that you can drag out the refrigerator-sized suitcase and pack lots of things you’d never pack for air travel makes driving south even more fun.


The Galveston port is easy to navigate and well organized, but go the day before the ship sails, and you’ll have fewer pre-cruise jitters. You can relax into the idea of your time on the high seas and see the sites of Galveston.


Trolley tours, the beach, the Strand and lots of history make Galveston a good destination on its own.


Many hotels in Galveston offer free cruise parking or very reduced rates. You can leave your car at the hotel and take a taxi or shuttle to the port. Instead of dealing with the huge parking facilities at the port, you and your luggage will be delivered to the front door.


Cruise check-in generally proves to be efficient and friendly, but be prepared with all your documents and a credit card, so you don’t hold things up.


Once you’re on board, you’ll have a cruise card connected to your credit card. On the ship, you won’t be able to use cash, so plan ahead, especially if you have other family members who will be on your account. You can set limits and add additional cards if that makes family accounting easier.


Read the cruise line’s rules about what you can and can’t take on board. You’ll go through multiple check points, so don’t plan on smuggling on that bottle of vodka to save money on drinks. It will be confiscated.


Most things are covered by your initial ticket, but any extras like gambling at the casino or making purchases at the many shops can creep up on you. You can pre-purchase a drink package for all your soda and alcohol needs, but do the math to determine whether or not it makes sense to have unlimited amounts.


That happy hour cocktail may cost $15 if you buy it separately, but if that’s the only alcoholic drink you’ll have, then you don’t need a $500-plus drink package to cover a whole week.


You may have picked the cruise you picked because of the places it goes. If that’s the case, decide if you want to book the cruise-sponsored excursions or venture out on your own. If you don’t like crowds, you may want to hire a taxi and go the way less traveled. Keep in mind, however, that if any problem arises on the cruise-booked excursions, the ship will wait for your return.


If you venture out on your own, you must return by a specific time, or the ship and all your belongings will sail without you.


I’ve talked to a couple to whom this unfortunate event occurred. A simple flat tire on their rented jeep, and they missed reboarding. They had to spend the night in town with what they had on their backs. They made their way the next morning to the closest airport, and then purchased one-way tickets to the ship’s next port.


Fortunately, they had their passports with them. At least further complications involving the Department of State were avoided.


This adventure added hundreds of dollars to their vacation costs. Granted, they had a great story to tell after the fact, but at the time it happened, they, along with their family back at the ship, were devastated and stressed, so plan ahead. Build in more than enough time to return to the ship if you go it alone.


The days at sea can prove to be the most relaxing. Make them your own. You can wake up when you want to. Experience one of the ship’s planned activities or not. Book a massage or spend the day at the slot machines.


Eat and drink when you want to from any number of tasty venues. Dress fancy for a five-star, multi-course dining experience, or grab something from the snack bar. Wear your swimsuit all day, laze by the pool, and stare at the ocean.


Read a good book and never leave your cabin, your home away from home on the high seas.


The better the cabin, the more likely you will spend time there. If you opt for the cheap tickets, you’ll find yourself in an interior room near the bottom of the ship and at one end or the other.


The vibrations from the engine can be daunting and loud. You’ll be a long walk from the elevator, and dark in your room really means dark once the door’s closed.


Once you experience a balcony or a suite, you’ll never opt for less. Having your personal view of the sea, a bigger room, and plenty of fresh air if you want it can make all the difference.


Granted, cruising isn’t for everyone, but give it a try. You might feel right at home on the high seas.